John MacArthur set off a firestorm of debate in November when he launched his Strange Fire book and conference flatly charging the charismaticchurch with irreverence to the Holy Spirit, heresy through prosperity teaching and other offenses.
Now charismaticBible scholar and theologian Michael L. Brown is offering an in-depth response in an e-book entitled Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire. Indeed, the book confronts one of the most explosive current debates among Christians.
“We feel there’s a real urgency to get this message out,” says Tom Freiling, director of Excel Publishers and founder of Xulon Press. “That’s why we’re releasing Authentic Fire as an e-book. MacArthur unfairly criticizes charismatics in his book, and the body of Christ deserves a response. There’s no better scholar and author than Michael L. Brown to make the biblical case for charismatic theology.”
In direct contrast to the “collective war” launched by MacArthur, Brown makes a biblical case for the continuation of the New Testamentgifts of the Spirit and demonstrates the unique contribution to missions, theology and worship made by the charismatic church worldwide.
Brown also calls for an appreciation of the unique strengths and weaknesses of both cessationists andcharismatics, inviting readers to experience God. And he demonstrates how charismatic leaders have been addressing abuses within their own movement for decades.
“This project is innovative on many levels,” Freiling continues. “First, the author wrote the book miraculously in less than one month—all 420 pages with hundreds of endnotes. Second, we designed, typeset and produced the e-book in a mere two weeks.”
He had just finished working the first shift at A Hunt Club and was wrapping up some paperwork when one of the bar’s dancers appeared outside Bekkela’s office door.
“I promised my mom to tell you that she and her friends are praying for you,” he recalls her saying.
While talk of Christianity was considered taboo and mocked in the Bekkela family, Aaron thanked the dancer’s mother, mentally dismissing interest in her church.
As a strip club owner, Bekkela had no business inside a church—unless it was a business deal with the leadership, he would later discover.
In his 20s at the time, Bekkela made good money at the club as the youngest of seven children, and he enjoyed the freedom to go on hunting trips with his brothers whenever he wanted. The smell of a locker room, perfume, cigarettes and booze had been with him since age 12.
Bekkela’s comfort with working at a strip club clashed with the opinions of others who were, in his words, “very religious but anything but Christian.” He suspected that the praying mother was like others he’d met.
His own mother, who had turned to religion during Bekkela’s senior year in high school, announced plans to divorce her husband, who was running the bar. After the marriage ended, Bekkela noticed that his mother’s faith had produced positive changes in her.
After his father died in 2009, Bekkela and a brother took over the bar and, a short time later, another brother gave Bekkela a Bible. About the same time, Bekkela and his wife, Stacy, received fliers from a local church, inviting first-time visitors.
By the time the second flier arrived at the Bekkela’s comfortable hillside home, Aaron had read some of his new Bible, and he admitted interest in the church’s invitation to visit.
“What? Am I going to ignite in the seat?” he asked Stacy.
When fire and brimstone didn’t rain down on Bekkela’s head, he warmed further to the idea of visiting the church again. Three pastors welcomed Bekkela, one talking with him as though his business was on the up and up. Another invited Bekkela to a Bible study, no questions asked. The reception gradually shattered Bekkela’s earlier negative perceptions resulting from “bump-ins” with religious people.
Today, the 43-year-old Bekkela repeats the praying mother’s words she offered 15 years ago when talking about his journey from the strip club into church and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as how he persuaded an Assemblies of God congregation in Fort Collins to buy A Hunt Club’s building and property in the fall of 2013.
As a new believer ashamed, broken and humiliated by his past, Bekkela managed to transfer sole ownership of the strip club to his brother while remaining the legal owner of the property in 2009. Still he wanted out completely so that he could begin anew, be baptized in water and enroll in a Christian university.
Thinking the building and land suitable for a church, Bekkela approached leaders of several area churches, offering to sell them A Hunt Club’s property.
“I got a lot of ‘That’s good’ and ‘We’ll pray for you,’” Bekkela says. “I couldn’t help [but] believe there was one out there, or a group of churches that could get it done.”
In 2010, Bekkela approached, unbeknownst to him, the home church of the praying mother he’d learned about years ago. His offer remained the same: sell A Hunt Club’s building and land to the church.
“It was really touching to me to see how God was so real in Aaron,” says Dary Northrop, senior pastor at Timberline Church. “He was so tenderhearted, so broken by all this.”
Northrop and another Timberline leader, Executive Pastor Rob Cowles, were moved by Bekkela’s persistence in trying to sell the land and building to a church. When the two of them met Bekkela at the club in the first half of 2013 to discuss his aim to sell the bar, Cowles surprised himself with what he told Northrop and Bekkela.
“I want to do this, and I have to lead it,” Cowles said.
That declaration stirred Northrop and the church’s membership to buy the strip club in late 2013 and grant Cowles leadership of the Genesis Project church plant when it opens in mid-2014.
“The thing I see about this building is it’s a place where a lot of dreams died and a place where we can seem them be reborn,” Cowles says.
Like the club destroyed the lives of many patrons and some dancers, Cowles believes the Genesis Project is a metaphor for new beginnings in the lives of people.
“Our mission is to create space for people to discover new beginnings in Jesus, who makes all things new. We want to serve the most underserved, broken people, the ones who don’t ‘do church,’” Cowles says.
Besides a 200-seat worship center, the 7,200-square-foot building will house a coffee shop and a commercial kitchen, where professional chefs will provide meals for those who need them and train people for culinary careers.
The Genesis Project shares the DNA of another church by the same name in Ogden, Utah. Both churches seek to meet emotional, physical and spiritual needs. In Fort Collins, the Genesis Project will provide classroom space for instruction in English as a second language. A ministry area for children is also envisioned.
The Ogden church gave the Genesis Project $5,000 to support the remodel and future operating expenses of the building, and another church in Loveland, Colo.—Resurrection Fellowship—offered $13,600 for startup costs. The latter was one of the churches Bekkela approached about purchasing the the strip club.
“When I heard about this, I knew right away this story was bigger than one church,” says Senior Pastor Jonathan Wiggins. “This is a kingdom story.”
“The conversion of a strip club into a church devoted to restoring families is something every believer should celebrate,” says Wiggins, who, in 2011, befriended a controversial artist much like area pastors and churches have supported Bekkela.
“We felt compelled to support this kingdom initiative and look forward to the countless testimonies that will result,” Wiggins says.
Bekkela, who is an internship and a couple classes away from a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Colorado Christian University, believes in the Genesis Project’s mission to restore broken lives.
“When you realize that you’ve poisoned a community, it’s hard to accept,” Bekkela says. “I know that God has paid my debt, but I still feel like I owe a debt.”
Bekkela will get a chance to repay that debt by investing in the lives of people his club destroyed when the Genesis Project opens. When Bekkela found the woman who invested in him through prayer nearly 20 years ago, he offered her his heartfelt thanks.
A new Christmas poll finds less Americans are actually reading the Bible’s account of Christ‘s birth for Christmas, especially in comparison to those who make watching Christmas movies a tradition.
According to the results of a survey released Wednesday, 94 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. For most, this will be a time for traditions. Whether it is watching a classic movie, reading a Christmas poem or short story, or opening up the pages of Scripture, traditions will play an integral part of their holiday celebrations.
The new survey commissioned by the American Bible Society and conducted online by Harris Interactive in November among more than 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and up found that while 30 percent make a tradition of watching the 1983 film A Christmas Story and 28 percent look forward to watching a film or TV version of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, just 15 percent say reading the Bible’s account of the birth of Christ is part of their holiday traditions.
“There is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the great Christmas films that have been made over the decades,” says American Bible Society Chief Communications Officer Geoffrey Morin. “It is just important that Christians don’t make holiday celebrations more about Scrooge and Ralphie than about Jesus.”
The survey also found that knowledge of the biblical account of Christmas was lacking. Fewer than half of Americans (42 percent) were able to correctly identify what the Bible says brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth—reporting for a census. Worse still, just 28 percent of those ages 18 to 34 knew the right answer.
“Everything we know about Christmas comes from the pages of the Bible,” Morin says. “I hope these survey findings will encourage people to take a step back and consider making the biblical account of Christmas part of their celebrations.”
Producer and actress Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel, The Bible) and producer Mark Burnett(The Voice, Survivor, Shark Tank, The Bible) brought The Bible miniseries to television with their company LightWorkers Media. The series became the No. 1 cable entertainment telecast of the year and one of the fastest-selling TV-to-disc titles ever and received three Emmy Award nominations.
Now, in the stand-alone feature Son of God, Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado portrays Jesus as the film spans from His birth through His teachings, crucifixion and resurrection. The film also includes an orchestral score from Oscar winnerHans Zimmer.
“We responded to an overwhelming demand for the greatest story ever told to be seen as a shared experience on the big screen,” say Downey and Burnett. “The result is a beautiful stand-alone movie. It’s the story of Jesus for a whole new generation.”
Burnett told an audience attending a screening in metro Orlando, Fla., that the film was “made with love” and that it shares “unequivocally who He [Jesus] is.”
Burnett says he sees the film as a “way to start conversations” about Jesus and as a means to “funnel people into churches.”
With a nod to the importance of the Spanish-language market, Burnett says the movie will release in Spanish the same day the English-language film is released.
Inspired by the success of The Bible series, Son of God features never-before-seen footage, a theatrical edit and a 5.1-surround-sound mix that adds to the immediacy of the experience. Click here to watch the trailer.
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.” -1 John 4:9
As we enter the Christmas season, we remember that it was on the very first Christmas morning when the meaning of “Emmanuel” changed. Before that day, when the chosen people of Israel would say, “Emmanuel, God is with us,” that meant that God is on our side. But on that first Christmas when they said, “God is with us,” it meant that God was actually with us in this baby. That God put skin on and decided to dwell among us.
This baby Jesus grew up to be our Savior and the most important person in human history who also lived a perfect life – fully God, filled with God’s Spirit, and the second person of the trinity. And, he was also a regular guy who experienced real temptations, who was hungry and thirsty, who could be physically injured, and who could get his feelings hurt and feel lonely. He had to work with other people to get things done.
Jesus didn’t even start his ministry until about the age of 30. Up to that point, he was building and constructing, and in the midst of that, lived a perfect life, full, flourishing, vibrant life. Jesus set for us the perfect example of what it means to truly live. He wanted to introduce people who are living around him into this new kind of life.
In the Bible, you see that that actually happening to the apostles. Before the resurrection, the apostles, were somewhat afraid. However, after the resurrection, they’re filled with the Spirit and start to do some incredible things. They literally go around healing people, performing miracles, encouraging people, and changing the physical space around them. That’s why Jesus said to them, “Even greater things than I did, you’re going to do.’ He says the same thing to you and me. Christ says to us, even today, “You’re going to do greater things than I did.”
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to do those greater things that you would have me do. Help me to show your love to everyone I meet. Amen.
Augustine of Hippo was born in North Africa to a pagan father and a devout mother. He grew up a prodigal who reveled in drunkenness, lewdness, and lust, but his mother kept praying for him. One day as Augustine sat in a garden, he overheard a voice chanting, “Take up and read!” Picking up a Bible, he opened it to Romans 13. As he read that page — especially verse 14 — a light streamed into his heart and, as he later said, all the darkness of doubt fled away. Augustine went on to become one of the greatest thinkers in Church history.
It’s remarkable how Bible verses become shafts of light to illumine the darkness of our souls, and then afterward they illumine the footsteps of our ways. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Any good work arising from our commitment to the Word of God brings honor to the Lord and overcomes the attacks of the enemy. Let’s constantly “take up and read” the Bible, resolved to always walk in its light.
A “seminary” is a school specializing in theological training especially for those entering vocational ministry. The word seminary, akin to the term for “seed,” comes from the Latin term seminarium, or “plant nursery.” Since the 1580s, this word has described schools that train Christians for ministry. Good seminaries enrich the Church with scholarship and instruction, and they’re important to the advancement of our Christian work.
Though not everyone can attend seminary, every Christian has a seminary between two covers — the Holy Bible. God’s Word is a school that trains us for the work He has planned for us on earth. According to 2 Timothy 3:17, as we invest ourselves in God’s Word, we’re “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We’re not just equipped for good work; we’re equipped for every good work, and we are thoroughly equipped for every good work. We become spiritually productive through the Word of God.
The Bible is God’s Everyone Seminary. Make sure you’re enrolled today by having a personal plan for reading, studying, memorizing, pondering, obeying, and sharing the Bible.
Referring to Proverbs 1:10, Barry Black, Chaplain of the United States Senate, wrote: “This simple Bible verse saved my life during my early teenage years when I refused to follow two friends who eventually murdered someone. The same morning I memorized this verse, I refused to go with them. The refusal kept me from going to jail for life — the penalty they received for the crime. God’s warnings are designed to protect us, not to destroy our joy. He challenges us to refuse to follow sinners.”1
When we accept the Word of God, it ultimately affects our decisions, our walk, and our entire life. It provides rules when we don’t know where the guardrails are. And it’s a fountainhead of strength when we’re overcome by fear or weakness.
Are you currently memorizing a particular verse or passage from the Bible? If not, find a verse and begin today. You might start with Proverbs 1:10. You never know when the right verse at the right time will save your life.
At first, I thought it was New Age culture. But I was wrong. It was occultism.
As I strolled through the streets of Key West on a 24-hour getaway with my daughter, I noticed something that I had never witnessed in Key West before: Occultism seems fully woven through the culture.
I’ve been going to Key West for more than 20 years and have spent weeks at a time on the tropical island. But something disturbing had happened in the 10 years since I last visited—and it’s merely a microcosm of what’s happening in the world today.
You can no longer walk down Duval Street—the famous drag of shops and restaurants—without running into the likes of Mahadeo Jerrybandhan, a renowned “peerless palmist” from Trinidad with a long white beard and an even longer white robe. But Jerrybandhan is not alone. He has plenty of peers in Key West, from psychics to mediums to channels to healers to tarot card readers to astrologers. The only group I didn’t find down there were the crystal readers.
Then there’s “Robert the Doll.” Key West profiteers have designed so-called ghost tours that explore the haunted history of Key West, including old wooden houses where spirits purportedly walk. Tour guides will tell you that Key West is one of the most haunted cities in the world with elevated paranormal activity. A local voodooistic icon, Robert the Doll will supposedly curse you if you take his picture without permission or forget to thank him for the privilege.
The Abomination of Occultism
As you can imagine, seeing all this grieved my spirit. But I should not have been so surprised. Occultism has been slowly creeping into American culture for decades as movie makers exalt witchcraft and vampires while the music industry pumps occult rock. Beloved, we are in the midst of a great spiritual crisis even now. Our literature, music, video games, comics, films and television shows are full of mysticism and the occult. Some of it is subtle. Some of it is blatant. All of it is wicked.
Again, this is nothing new. Occultism—which broadly includes magic, séances, channeling, hypnosis, necromancy, astrology, extra-sensory perception, alchemy, spiritualism and divination—is strongly condemned in the Bible.
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire [which is an ancient occult practice], or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord” (Deut. 18:10-12).
The Lord rebuked Israel for practicing astrology (Is. 47:10-14). Jezebel practiced witchcraft (2 Kings 9:22) and we know how that ended. Ephesus was known for a population that practiced magic arts (Acts 19:19). And the book of Revelation makes it clear that “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).
Kabbalah, Kundalini and Jezebel
And yet we see occult practices, like Kabbalah, gaining momentum in the church. We see “prophetic words” delivered in what appears to be Kundalini fashion, with violent shaking and demonic tongues against a backdrop of tribal bongos that set the congregation into hysteria. We see a Jezebel spiritworking to seduce saints into idolatry and sexual immorality—and oftentimes succeeding. We see all sorts of strong delusion and strange fire with occultic ties in the modern church.
But we should not be surprised. The rise of occultism is a sign of the end times. Satan’s plan is to fascinate our hearts with occult power and deceive us. The Holy Spirit, meanwhile, wants to fascinate our spirits with a revelation of the Son of God. I believe God’s people are enticed by occultism when they begin seeking spiritual experiences above seeking God. It’s a subtle—and dangerous—shift. Many Christians are on fire for God, but that fire can suddenly turn strange if we are not rooted in the Word. If we seek supernatural experiences, we will find them—but they don’t always come from Jesus.
Beloved, we must not play with strange fire. Ultimately, the occult leads to murder and mayhem—immorality of all kinds. It’s not likely that you would ever willfully visit the likes of Mahadeo Jerrybandhan, the peerless palmist—or any of his peers. But could you ignorantly be engaged with occultic practices that are opening the door to deceptive dangers? Could it be coming from what appears to be godly influences—even within church culture?
Don’t brush the question off before praying about it. If you want the truth, the Holy Spirit will lead you and guide you into all truth. Please hear me! Even a little occult is a deadly poison—a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The Bible warns about deceptive teachers, false apostles and deceitful workers. The Bible warns about self-deception. And it’s your responsibility to keep your heart pure. If you’ve stepped into this demonic ditch, repent now and warn others.
Friends, we’re in an end-times war with eternal consequences. Satan is using the occult to seduce people away from the kingdom of God to dance in the kingdom of darkness. I pray that the Lord gives you discernment and awakens your spirit, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matt. 24:42).
Let me leave you with a warning from the apostle Paul: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Amen.
As news editor for Charisma magazine, I read hundreds of stories every week about the good, bad and ugly. Unfortunately, most of it is bad and ugly.
Through this lens, it’s clear that anti-Christ agendas and false gospels are rising. In the world, we see the homosexual agenda, the socialist agenda, the atheist agenda and so on. In the church, we see the hypergrace movement, sexual scandals in the church and cessationist wars that grieve the Holy Spirit.
Still, Jesus is Lord.
Over the Thanksgiving break, I was encouraged by some seemingly trivial observations. For example, the Gideon Bible was still in my drawer at the Embassy Suites in downtown Tampa. When I went down for breakfast, a couple sitting next to me held hands and prayed over their meal in the name of Jesus. In nearby St. Petersburg, a nativity scene was displayed in all its glory.
Yes, the culture wars are real. The atheists really are trying to drive Christianity out of the public square, and radical gay activists really are trying to redefine traditional marriage. Yes, there is trouble in the church. High-profile pastors really are falling into sexual immorality or committing suicide. Yes, it’s likely to get darker in the days ahead.
Still, Jesus is Lord.
Peter warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). And to that I say a hearty amen. But nowhere in that verse does it call us to be paranoid or to be afraid of what will happen next. In fact, the Bible tells us repeatedly to “fear not.”
Paul warned us not to be ignorant of the devil’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11). Again, I say amen. But the apostle didn’t intend for us to exalt the enemy over Jesus. We need to put on our spiritual armor because we are wrestling against principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12). But God always leads us into triumph in Christ (2 Cor. 2:14).
Each and every week, I sound the alarm through this column because we need to be sober and vigilant; we need to be educated about the devil’s devices; we need to be equipped to wrestle against that which is wrestling against us. But this week I am blowing the trumpet in Zion and sounding an alarm in God’s holy mountain (Joel 2:1).
I would encourage you to read Joel 2 in its entirety. We need to heed God’s Word in this hour. We need to continue issuing the call to repentance in the church. Then the Lord will be zealous for His land. Then God will pour His Spirit out upon us so we won’t grow weary in this wrestling match—and we won’t grow paranoid or fearful either.
Spiritual warfare is a reality, but Jesus is still Lord.